No quarter for old soldiers

Last May, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced plans to build a new state veterans home here in Arkansas. This followed the Legislature’s passage of enabling legislation that was accompanied by $7.5 million in funding for the project.

According to a recent report by Arkansas News Bureau, three of the four sites identified by a task force as prospective locations for a new veterans home have been rejected and a second round of proposals is being sought.

Cissy Rucker, director of the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, told the Arkansas Veterans Home Task Force that proposed sites in Fort Smith, Russellville and Jacksonville, which the task force visited last month, did not meet federal requirements for the facility.

Rucker further clarified that a proposed site in the Haskell community outside Benton is still under consideration. She also said she met with Jacksonville officials and looked at four other possible locations in that city, all of which had potential.

Rucker said the second round candidates should be aware that the project has very specific and detailed requirements — patterned after federal guidelines as well as the process used by the state of Nebraska recently when it sought a location for its veterans home. Rucker said she expects the new requirements to be sent out next week. Cities and counties wishing to submit a proposal will have until Nov. 15 to do so, she said.

Fair enough. There remains just one question: Where is Pine Bluff’s proposal? How come city leaders aren’t out drumming up support and touting our attributes? To be clear, the only sure way to not get the project is to not ask for it. We have to think that if a new prison was being shopped around, we would be jumping over ourselves to attract attention. Why have we been silent on pitching ourselves for a project that would have a more positive impact on Pine Bluff and its environs?

While we have weathered some pretty rocky ground regarding bonds, grants and other manna from Uncle Sam, sitting on the sidelines is madness.

Interestingly, Rucker almost seemed to prompt us off our collective duff: “If you want to apply you are welcome under this criteria and it’s very strict,” she told reporters, adding she and the department’s deputy director have visited about 20 possible locations across the state, including some in Pine Bluff.

While we assent to the fact that such proposals take time to craft, we believe it could be done. Furthermore, we believe that we’re just as good a candidate as anywhere else. By virtue of our location we already meet one of the primary criteria: being within two hours of the old veterans home.

Rucker elaborated that it cannot be located near airports, railroad tracks, industrial areas or other high-noise areas. Again, we can accommodate.

Such a facility would create a litany of good jobs. It would encourage in-migration by professional people. Those people would likely have children to feed and educate. Cars to service. Households to furnish. Free time to fill. Entertainment and restaurant demands.

This is exactly the demographic we need to attract. For far too long Pine Bluff has been an economic doughnut — no middle. We have the dwindling vestiges of the old aristocracy and “wealth” impoverished persons. What we lack is a critical mass of families in the consumer class. That’s exactly the rung from which thriving communities are launched.